Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and state Sen. Stacey Campfield both say they are being urged to run against U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander in next year’s Republican primary, but have no intention of doing so.
“I’m not exaggerating, I get a dozen emails a week asking me to run,” Ramsey told reporters. “The tea party groups are out there looking for an opponent and I think they’ll have a hard time finding one against Lamar.”
The Senate speaker said he doesn’t even want the job.
“Why would I want to step down and be a United States senator?” Ramsey said. “He’s one of one hundred. I’m one of one.”
Campfield, R-Knoxville, said he has also received frequent entreaties from conservatives urging him to challenge Alexander, but tells them he is “happy being a state senator.” Campfield is up for re-election to his seat next year and already has Richard Briggs, a Knox County commissioner and physician, running against him.
“I’ve had people ask me, but short of them coming up with millions of dollars to get the message out about how wonderful I am, no, I’m not running,” he said.
Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville, stirred a flurry of interest recently when a tea party blog reported he canceled an appearance at an Alexander event because he was upset with the incumbent’s vote on an immigration bill. But a spokeswoman told the Tennessean that Green and Alexander are friends and he missed the event for family reasons.
Ramsey said he talked with Green, counseling him against opposing Alexander because “I know what it’s like” to be hugely outspent in a campaign — a reference to his unsuccessful run against Bill Haslam for governor in 2010 — and “I think he’s doing too good a job in the state Senate.”
Tennessee employers, public and private, are declaring that the state’s “guns in parking lots” law, which took effect July 1, does nothing to change policies prohibiting their employees from bringing weapons onto their property, even if they have a handgun carry permit.
That has prompted Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, a leading supporter of the new law, to declare that he will “probably” support an anticipated push to change the law next year to clarify that permit holders cannot be fired solely for having their gun in a locked car in their employers’ parking lots.
That runs counter to the declared wish of Gov. Bill Haslam that gun laws in Tennessee remain at the “status quo” in the 2014 session with no new gunfights.
“I hate that the attorney general has muddied the waters on this,” said Ramsey, who said he has been receiving complaints from employees of Eastman Chemical Co. this summer who were upset that the company’s prohibition on guns in parking lots is unchanged.
He referred a formal legal opinion from Attorney General Bob Cooper in May that says the new law — while forbidding any criminal prosecution of permit holders complying with its provisions — will have no impact on Tennessee law that otherwise generally allows a company to fire an employee “at will,” for any reason or no reason.
Department of Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner Burns Phillips has fired Fiscal Services Administrator Ron Jones effective Wednesday, reports The Tennessean. Jones had been in charge of the department’s operating budget of more than $250 million, while overseeing facilities, procurement and telecommunications, according to a biography on the state government website.
Former commissioner Karla Davis chose Jones for the role in July 2011.
Davis, and two other top officials she hired, resigned in mid-March, just days before publication of auditors’ sharp criticisms of the department, which failed to monitor fraud and delayed sending checks to thousands of out-of-work Tennesseans.
Hiring in Davis’s administration has led to two lawsuits charging that leaders discriminated against white employees by forcing them out and hiring black replacements. Davis and three hand-picked officials who have since resigned are black.
News release from Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey’:
Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey (R-Blountville) today announced the appointment of Charles Tuggle of Memphis to the Judicial Nominating Commission. Tuggle will fill the vacancy left by the death of commission member Elizabeth Collins.
“Identifying individuals capable of rendering prudent decisions in agreement with our laws as written is important work,” said Lt. Governor Ramsey. “Charles Tuggle is an accomplished attorney and executive as well as a veteran of our armed forces. I trust that he will work well with the current members of the commission to ensure Tennessee has the best possible judiciary.”
“I appreciate Lt. Governor Ramsey giving me the opportunity to serve,” said Tuggle. “I look forward to serving my state in this capacity.”
Mr. Tuggle is currently executive vice president and general counsel for First Horizon National Corp. Tuggle practiced law for 30 years with the law firm of Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz before joining the FTN Financial division of First Tennessee Bank as chief risk officer in 2003.
Tuggle earned a bachelor of arts degree from Rhodes College and his Juris Doctorate from Emory University. Tuggle is a graduate of the Georgia State University ROTC program and served as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Army.
The Judicial Nominating Commission was created in 2009 when Lt. Governor Ramsey reformed the process for selecting Tennessee’s appellate judges to provide more transparency and accountability in the judiciary. The commission has 17 members and is responsible for making judicial nominations to state appellate courts and the state Supreme Court when vacancies arise.
— Note: The commission will cease to exist on June 30, but plans to select nominees for three appellate court positions before then. Previous post HERE.
House Speaker Beth Harwell and Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey said Thursday a legislative committee should look into the handling of a multimillion dollar state contract with a Chicago-based firm that once counted Gov. Bill Haslam among its investors.
But they also said they believe there was no wrongdoing in the contract with Jones Lang LaSalle or two other contracts negotiated by the Haslam administration to outsource to private businesses work formerly done by state employees.
“Just the whole idea of sole-bidding, I think that’s a legitimate concern for us to examine,” said Harwell. “I do not believe anything has been done wrong, but (a review by legislative committees) is appropriate.”
Ramsey also said he supports having the Fiscal Review Committee, a joint House-Senate panel tasked with oversight of state spending, study the contracts. The panel tentatively plans to do so at a meeting next month.
Yet the Senate speaker, who also serves as lieutenant governor, was adamant in voicing confidence that no misdeeds occurred in contracts negotiated through the state Department of General Services, headed by Commissioner Steve Cates.
“I don’t believe this department has ever been run any better than it is right now,” Ramsey said. “I don’t think anything was done that was illegal and I don’t think that anything was done that was unethical.”
State Comptroller Justin Wilson said his office will be looking into “procedures” involved in the contract “to see whether or not they need to be modified or changed in any way.”
As initially reported by WTVF-TV, Jones Lang LaSalle initially won a $1 million consulting contract, competitively bid, to make a review of state-owned buildings and leases of property with recommendations for an office space “master plan.” That contract was subsequently expanded in stages to authorize up to $11 million in state payments.
The resulting master plan calls for the state to dispose of six buildings deemed “functionally obsolete,” for outsourcing of jobs now performed by Department of General Services employees and for leasing of more office space for state workers in Nashville, Chattanooga and Memphis. It is called “Project T3” or “Transforming Tennessee for Tomorrow” and officials project it will save the state $135 million over the next decade.
Earlier this year, Jones Lang LaSalle won a second contract for management of office leasing for the state that is valued at up to $330 million, including pass-through costs such as utility and maintenance payments. The company stands to receive up to $38 million.
Also under one of the contract amendments, the company will act as the state’s broker for the new leased office space to replace the six buildings being abandoned. The firm will receive a 4 percent commission from the buildings’ owners based on the total gross rental fees the state pays over the coming 10 years.
In 2010 while running for governor, Haslam included JLL among a list of companies in which he had invested more than $10,000. He has refused to disclose the amount of any of those investments and, after his election, most of his investments — an exception being the governor’s stake in Pilot Flying J — were placed in a blind trust.
“He doesn’t know what went into the blind trust. He doesn’t know what’s in it,” gubernatorial spokesman David Smith said. “If someone is suggesting that Jones Lang LaSalle got this contract because the governor had a previous investment in it, that’s absolutely untrue.”
WTVF reported Haslam hosted top JLL executives for dinner at the governor’s residence on April 24, 2012, including former NFL star quarterback Roger Staubach and Herman Bulls, CEO of the company’s public institutions division. Also attending were Cates, Herbert Slatery, the governor’s legal counsel; and Mark Cate, the governor’s chief of staff.
Three months later, Cate joined Bulls and other JLL executives in a presentation to the State Building Commission that led to approval of contract amendments by the panel.
Harwell and Ramsey are members of the Building Commission and commented to reporters after a meeting of the five-member panel Thursday on other matters.
Ramsey said that Haslam, like anyone coming into government, would naturally have interests that could become a conflict. The governor handled that appropriately by putting his interests in a blind trust, said Ramsey.
“I don’t know that you could do anything more than that,” he said.
Ramsey acknowledged, in response to a question, that JLL could have an incentive for negotiating higher rental fees for the state since that would mean higher commissions for the company.
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner of Nashville told reporters he plans to write Harwell a letter asking that the Government Operations Committee be assigned to investigate the JLL contract and others.
Harwell said she had not received the letter, but believes the Fiscal Review Committee is the “most appropriate” vehicle for reviewing the contracts.
The Department of General Services has also negotiated a contract with Bridgestone/Firestone for outsourcing maintenance and repair of state-owned vehicles and a contract with Enterprise Rent-a-Car for providing rental vehicles to state employees. The latter contract came without competitive bidding and with a former Enterprise executive hired by Cates to oversee the department’s motor vehicles division.
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, speaking to a group of Northeast Tennessee realtors, predicted there will be a “huge push” next year to require nasal decongestant medicines like Sudafed to be prescription only, reports Hank Hayes. “That’s going to be tough,” Ramsey, R-Blountville, said. “That’s pushing government down on the people. All of us are going to have to balance that with what’s best for society.”
Medicine that contains pseudoephedrine — such as Sudafed, Actifed, Contac and Claritin-D — currently can only be sold in pharmacies and must be kept behind the counter in Tennessee.
Buying those drugs requires a customer to present photo identification to a store employee and then sign for the purchase.
The customer’s personal information is then entered into a government database meant to prevent an individual from purchasing more than nine grams of pseudoephedrine — about three boxes — in a 30-day span.
Still, that 2011 law apparently hasn’t reduced using pseudoephedrine as a meth production ingredient, Ramsey said.
“We have a real, real drug problem in Tennessee,” Ramsey said. “When I hear employers say they interviewed 100 people for jobs and only 15 passed a drug test, we have a problem.”
State Rep. David Hawk, one of the lawmakers at the NETAR luncheon, introduced legislation in the last session to require pseudoephedrine products to be maintained “in the same manner as other controlled substances.” Action on the bill was deferred to next year.
“We need to go further,” Hawk, R-Greeneville, said. “We’re investing too much money in jails.”
If Congress allows states to collect sales taxes from Internet sales, Gov. Bill Haslam and leaders of the Tennessee Legislature say they would like to put some of the new revenue generated toward reducing current state taxes.
Haslam, House Speaker Beth Harwell and Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey all favor the “Marketplace Fairness Act,” as the pending legislation in Congress is entitled.
“If the bill becomes law, it will allow Tennessee to collect taxes that are already due, and hopefully we can use those funds to reduce taxes elsewhere for Tennesseans,” said Harwell in an emailed statement last week.
Haslam, asked last week if he would like to lower other taxes if the bill passes Congress, replied, “Sure.” But he added some caveats.
“No. 1, I’m of the don’t-count-your-chickens-before-they-hatch school and we’ve got a long way to go before they pass that thing in the House,” he said.
The Senate has approved the bill, which would require Internet retailers with gross sales of more than $1 million per year to collect sales taxes, with support of both Tennessee U.S. Senators, Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker. But it is stalled in the House, where many members of the Republican majority are cool — if not outright opposed — toward the idea.
“No. 2, we don’t really know what that number is” for how much new revenue would be generated for Tennessee by collecting taxes from Tennesseans when they buy online from out-of-state retailers.
The National Conference of State Legislatures has estimated that Tennesseans avoided $748.5 million in sales taxes on online purchases last year — about $400 million that would have gone to the state and the rest to city and county governments combined statewide.
But that doesn’t take into account the pending bill’s exemption for retailers with less than a $1 million gross and various other provisions.
And No. 3, Haslam said, there may be areas where the state should increase spending rather than cut taxes. The question, as he put it, is “Are there places where there’s something we’re not doing that we should be doing?”
Full story HERE.
(Note: This updates, expands and replaces earlier post)
State attorney general Bob Cooper says a new state law protecting handgun permit holders from criminal prosecution for keeping their guns in locked cars still leaves them vulnerable to being fired by employers who prohibit weapons on their premises.
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said the opinion, made public Wednesday, “ignores the clear legislative intent of the law.” (Note: full text of opinion HERE)
John Harris, president of the Tennessee Firearms Association, said Cooper’s analysis is correct and echoes points that Second Amendment advocates raised during legislative debate, only to be ignored by Republican legislative leadership.
The attorney general’s opinion, requested by Rep. Judd Matheny, R-Tullahoma, also addresses four legal questions raised about the so-called “guns in parking lots” law enacted earlier this year.
Two of them were the subject of considerable debate, including amendments offered on the House floor by Rep. John Mark Windle, D-Livingston, who had Harris’ help in drafting them.
Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey acknowledges the failure of his campaign finance bill in the GOP-run House this year is part of the reason he decided to stop joint fundraising with the other chamber, reports the Chattanooga TFP. Speaking after the legislative session ended April 19, the Blountville lawmaker said while the split had “been in the works for a long time, I’d be less than honest if I didn’t say that was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
“But,” Ramsey added, “I think it would have happened anyway.”
Among other things, the bill would have eliminated a requirement that corporations report political contributions to candidates as well as political parties and legislative caucuses.
Proponents of lifting the reporting requirement argued it wasn’t needed because candidates report their contributions.
Democratic critics charged that canceling the requirement would eliminate an important accounting cross-check and could lead to candidates simply pocketing corporate cash.
Despite the GOP’s 70-member supermajority in the House, the bill received just 48 votes, all from Republicans. That was short of the 50 votes necessary for passage.
Twenty-two Republicans voted no, abstained or didn’t vote. (Harwell didn’t vote.
…”I just, philosophically, just didn’t feel supportive of that measure,” Harwell told reporters last week. “But I have given everyone fair notice that that was my stand.”
Asked to elaborate, Harwell said, “I have trouble with a company being able to give me money and only I am the reporter. So I think there needed to be a proper check that the company would have to report to. … [If] XYZ Company gave me $10,000, I only reported $5,000, where would the [cross] check be?”
She said the bill’s House sponsor, Republican Glen Casada, of Franklin, has indicated he intends to bring it up again next year.
Proponents shrug off concerns about contributions being reported.
But the state’s Registry of Election Finance found legislative candidates failed to report about 2.5 percent of contributions made by political action committees and corporations in 2012.
Candidates are required to correct omissions, on pain of fines. If the correction is timely, and if the omissions don’t exceed two per year and are less than $2,000 collectively, the registry takes no action.
Drew Rawlins, executive director of the state’s Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance, called the 2.5 percent figure for nonreporting low. He attributed discrepancies to honest mistakes by candidates.
“Sometimes candidates make a list of all contributions and one may get left off. Sometimes what happens is that a candidate has lost a deposit slip or something like that so anything that’s on that deposit slip may not have gotten reported,” Rawlins said.
— Note: For related Harwell-Ramsey stuff, see the News Sentinel HERE, and the City Paper’ HERE.
House-Senate hostility is nothing new in Legislatorland, but the basis of tensions that led to the flare-up in the waning days of the first Republican supermajority session just might be more fundamental — and thus more enduring — than the squabbles in bygone days among Democratic leaders.
For one big thing, both House Speaker Beth Harwell and Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey would like to be governor.
Ramsey, who already has the title of lieutenant governor, tried to scratch the “lieutenant” part in 2010 but lost in the Republican primary to Bill Haslam. Today he says he “can’t imagine” putting himself through that “grueling” experience again and suspects a successful candidate would have to be rich enough to self-finance. But he doesn’t rule it out.
Harwell hasn’t tried before and is quite coy in talking publicly about it, but friends say that her long-term goal is to follow up on becoming Tennessee’s first woman speaker by becoming Tennessee’s first woman governor.